Kamiko Review

Kamiko first caught my eye because of its stunning pixel art-style and its fluid animation.  It’s a Japanese indie title that cropped up on the eShop early into the Switchs launch. The games developed by SKIPMORE – the same people responsible for the two short but sweet 3DS Fairune titles that gathered somewhat of a cult following. For just £4.49 how could I resist checking out this fast-paced hack-n’-slasher and finding out if the gameplay could back up its style.

The games story is short and to the point. Demons have blocked the path between the transient world and the world of the dead, and if things continue down this path the invading demons will destroy all of humankind. To restore peace to the realms the gods have recruited three young shrine maidens, bestowing each one with an ancient weapon in which to quell the evil forces. That’s really all there is to it, a generic and forgettable story. It’s a big disappointment as visually the world is very interesting and it would have been nice to see some greater depth it.

The first of the shrine maidens is Yamato armed with a sword known as Kusanagi she excels at close range combat, dealing fast flurries’ of strikes on her opponents. Next up is Uzume given the gift of Magatama of Yasakani a bow that fires one to three arrows in succession. Powerful but difficult as she has to remain stationary when firing and can only fire in four directions. That just leaves Hinome who wields the Mirror of Yata, which looks suspiciously more like a shield, that is thrown outwards acting like a boomerang. While it’s away Hinome can then deal several quick jabs with a hidden dagger. Arguable I found the latter of these characters to be the most enjoyable to play as she can switch up her play style. Playing through the game with each character helps also adds some much needed replayability and it gives the game a different feel on each run.

Kamiko has a very top-down Legend of Zelda feel to it as you explore a world solve a series puzzles and beat up some bad guys. Thankfully though the game does just enough to secure its own unique place. For one thing it’s fast. Combat is a very fluid coming more in the form of a hack-n’-slasher and besides attack the only other control you have is sprint which you encouraged to use due to it being assigned to five buttons. In fact the game moves at such a pace that on your first run you can easily finish the game in less than 1 hour and 30 minutes.

There are four levels in all that play out in exactly the same way. Each level certainly has a different vibe to it as you go from a brightly lit forest to a fiery wasteland but the formula for conquering them doesn’t deviate from the initial level. Scour the land for four Shinto shrines breaking the seals of darkness that have befallen them, which in turn opens a path to a guardian boss that must be thwarted. The puzzles introduced in the very first level are simply reused in the subsequent levels just presented in a different way.

Disappointingly they’re also very light puzzles, which come in the form of locked doors that need opening. Littering the landscapes are a number of chests that contain one of four things, a HP or SP boost, a key or an orb which then have to be carried to their corresponding pedestal or door. Solving these doesn’t offer up much of a challenge but they can be the source of a lot of frustration as when you’re carrying them you can neither attack nor sprint. Being caught out by a respawning enemy and forced to repeat the journey can make sections feel hugely tedious.

To break things up the chests as well as several doors and shrines require magic to open them which is gathered by defeating enemies; the higher the combo chain the more amount of SP is gained. Now this generates a lot of intrigue as once you finish the game you’re given a speed run table so you can try for faster runs. Play as all three characters and you’ll pretty much have the levels memorised so you can plan the optimum path. However the need to fight and gather SP throws a spanner into the works so you need to try and find a balance when aiming for the quickest time.  

Like I said before what first drew me to Kamiko was its bright retro style and thankfully the charming pixel art work is solid in every aspect of the game. It’s an interesting blend between 8 -16 bit eras depicting a run down over world while throwing in some Shinto imagery. Each area is unique, standing out with strong colour palettes and there’s fun audio to suit, sometimes quick and upbeat then at other times sombre and lonely. Beautiful effects and animations are also used to great effect to give the levels some extra life. Raindrops lash across the water world, bushes disperse into a flurry of leaves and SP explodes from enemies like fireworks. Exploring each local doesn’t take very long but it’s fun to take in the world and inspect every nook and cranny for the little details.

Overall Kamiko is an adorable hack n’-slash adventure that moves at pace and oozes charm in every regard as it treats us to gorgeous pixel-artwork, a fun soothing soundtrack and fluid action. It’s just a shame that it’s over all too soon, with very little offered in terms of challenge but then the varied cast of characters and mix of speed run elements give the game some much needed replay value. When you also take into count its low price then it’s well worth it for a couple of hours hack-n’-slash fun through a vibrant world.

Daniel Vaughan

Creative Computer Games Design graduate from South Wales. Enthusiastic gamer, otaku, games journalist, doodler and wannabe animator.

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